Livelier engine, livelier car. Now that Chevy has the 2.3-liter, 150-h.p., 16-valve, 4-cylinder ready for Cavalier, the Z24 performance version is back after being absent for several months.

The Z24 gets the 2.3-liter as standard with 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual.

Our test car came with the 5-speed, a pleasant surprise for its smoothness and ability to slip gear to gear without the balkiness and hesitation that have marked GM 5-speeds for so long. It’s Honda-like in silkiness and a good unit on which to teach a driver.

Our test car also came with a level III sports suspension with beefed-up springs, gas-charged shocks and larger-diameter anti-sway bars to enable it tocling rather well to the pavement. The 16-inch steel-belted radials contributed to the road holding. The suspension was firmer than in the LS convertible without transmitting lots of harshness back into the cabin. The car sits relatively flat in sharp corners. Those 16-inch tires are limited to the Z24.

Chevy spent time and effort, which means money, stiffening the body to reduce noise each time it flexes. The ride is much quieter than in the 1994 model.

Dual air bags and four-wheel ABS are standard.

Other goodies include stainless-steel exhaust, galvanized body panels for all but the roof (so no need for rustproofing), full fold-down rear seat-back for added stowage and platinum-tipped spark plugs for 100,000 miles of use before change.

Front-seat passengers will enjoy the glove-box, which opens a few inches and stops so as not to slap your knees. And a tissue holder is in the lid.

As for annoyances, the rear parcel shelf is covered with a shiny carpet that at times gives off glare. A different color or different carpet surface is needed.

And though not an annoyance, it is somewhat odd that the Z24 isn’t dressed to kill. Former Z24s were decked out with plastic ground effects along the rocker panels and wheel lip extensions and attractive two-tone finishes for a sportier appearance.

The 1995 Z24 looks sedate. Other than a deck lid spoiler, the “Z24” lettering along the doors and a set of fog lamps upfront, the Z24 doesn’t jumpout and force you to take a second look like Z24s of old did. It lacks stylingimagination.

Base price is $14,295. Other than 4-speed automatic ($695), power locks ($210) and rear window defogger ($170), you don’t need much more to complete the package-except traction control, which won’t be available until the 1996 model year with the 2.3-liter and 4-speed automatic that will be offered on all Cavaliers.

Top-down motoring.

One of the joys of life.

The breeze wafting over your forehead.

The sun tickling your cheeks.

The wind clobbering your ears.

The air turbulence knotting your hair.

The sun baking your brains.

The cold causing your legs to go numb.

It doesn’t get any better than this, folks.

Thanks to Chevrolet’s 1995 Cavalier LS, you, too, can enjoy droptop jubilation.

The redesigned 1995 Cavalier base coupe and sedan arrived in showrooms lastfall with a 2.2-liter, 120-horsepower, 4-cylinder engine and 3-speed automaticor 5-speed manual transmission. Choices were limited to keep production startup simple-and problems to a minimum.

Now it’s time to expand the Cavalier lineup for spring with a ragtop LS convertible and a performance-oriented Z24 coupe both featuring a 2.3-liter, 150-h.p., 4-cylinder and a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual.

Coupe, sedan or convertible, Cavalier brings a lot to the table for 1995-dual air bags and four-wheel anti-lock brakes as standard, a more aerodynamic body that slips through the wind with less noise filtering into the cabin and a wider and roomier interior.

We tested coupe and convertible and found the LS convertible especially appealing because the top works so easily.

It’s not as simple as pushing a button and letting the top unfasten, retract and store itself-as in the Mercedes roadster-but it comes about as close to that as you can expect in a car stickering for less than $20,000, or about what you would pay for the front end of the Mercedes SL.

Often you can spot a convertible owner in a crowd even without his or her car nearby. The owner usually is the one with nubs for fingers because unfastening/fastening the top release lever along the windshield header takes a hefty toll on the digits.

The Cavalier LS convertible is user-friendly. There’s but one lever at the header immediately above the rearview mirror. Pull it out and gently pull backand as the top starts to retract, the side rear windows motor down. When the top is fully down and in its compartment, simply pull a sheet of vinyl from behind the rear seat and two plastic tonneau covers from the trunk to conceal hardware and software.

To bring the top up, remove the tonneau and vinyl covers, press the releaselever forward and the top powers up, the windows raise and the top seals itself at the header. No crunched fingers.

The rear side windows provide an added benefit. Unlike many convertible tops in which the vinyl wraps around to almost the back of the driver and passenger windows, which creates a blind spot when merging or parking or pulling out to pass, the Cavalier has no such obstruction.

The rear window, or backlite, as it is called, is glass, which eliminates the fading or discoloring common with plastic windows while allowing for a rear window defogger. However, though that backlite is wide, it could be a bitlarger vertically for optimum vision.

Of note: When the top is up, wind noise is at a minimum. Sometimes tops flap in the wind. The LS top sits flat and secure.

If you volunteer to chauffeur the homecoming queen in your convertible, Chevy says that vinyl and tonneau cover can hold up to 180 pounds, though anyone volunteering to chauffeur a homecoming queen of that girth probably needs a new alma mater.

The LS convertible we tested came with Cavalier’s base and smallest 4-cylinder engine, the 2.2, 120-h.p. teamed with 3-speed automatic, a combination that gives out a muffled growl when starting away from the light. The 2.2 has adequate power for a convertible, which is meant for relaxful cruising and not zipping away each time red turns to green. Mileage is a most pleasant 23 miles per gallon city/33 m.p.g. highway.

The 2.3-liter, 150-h.p., 16-valve, 4 is a $395 option that comes only with the 4-speed automatic, which itself is an extra $200. Not only is the 2.3-liter, 4 peppier, it’s also noticeably quieter, and fuel economy is only 1m.p.g. less than with the 2.2, which begs the question why the 2.2, unless youdon’t have an extra $595 to spend for the 2.3 and 4-speed.

The LS with base suspension and 15-inch tires ride a bit soft and tend to w ander at times. You’ll feel most bumps and thumps in the road.

Other noteworthy features of the LS convertible are large outside mirrors at a time when too many automakers think itsy-bitsy mirrors look better aerodynamically even if they don’t provide adequate vision; surprisingly good rear seat room so you can slip in a pair of adults without using a shoehorn; wide, supportive seats; a thick steering wheel that gives you the feeling of control; and console cupholders that hold regular-size beverages or a Big Gulp.

It would be nice if Chevy made a few changes in future LS models, however, such as enlarging the glass on the backlite as well as enlarging the turn indicator stalk, which is so short you have to reach around and behind the steering wheel to use it.

Base price is $17,210. With the popular options-power windows/mirrors/locks, tilt wheel, cruise, intermittent wipers, rear defogger and radio upgrade, our test car stickered at $19,001, including $485 for freight.

Chevy will build only 2,000 LS convertibles this year but plans to raise that to at least 7,000 in 1996.

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